Support staff concerned about COVID-19 begin work refusal process at Toronto special needs school
A Toronto District School Board logo is seen on a sign in front of a high school in Toronto, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
TORONTO -- Support staff concerned about the adequacy of COVID-19 safety precautions have begun a work stoppage at a downtown public school that serves students with a developmental and or physical disability.
In a letter sent to parents on Monday and shared by the Toronto District School Board, the school’s principal said a work refusal process began today at Beverley School.
“This process involves the TDSB and the Ministry of Labour discussing concerns with the impacted staff to come to a resolution,” Principal Danjela Malobabic said in the letter. “In this particular situation, there are concerns about COVID-19.”
Teachers remain in classes while the discussions are ongoing and administrators from neighbouring schools have been brought in to ensure that there are sufficient staff onsite, Malobabic said.
While in-person learning is suspended at most schools in the GTA because of the surge in COVID-19 cases, education continues in-person at some schools which cater to students with special needs.
“I want to assure you that the health and safety of our students is a top priority. Currently, there are no known cases of COVID-19 in our school which, as per the Ministry of Education, remains open to provide in-person learning in cases where students with special education needs cannot be accommodated with remote learning,” Malobabic said to parents in the letter.
She said the school continues to follow “stringent” health and safety protocols from the TDSB.
However she did say an early dismissal could happen as early as Tuesday if there are concerns about adequate supervision of students. She said parents or guardians will be contacted if that is the case.
The workers in question are represented by CUPE. Their local could not immediately be reached for comment.
However there have been growing calls for weeks to better support in-person special education workers.
Last week the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) called on the Ford government to provide emergency funding to increase safety measures for special education programs.
“For some students with complex special education needs, there are no viable alternatives to the highly specialized in-person programs they currently attend. However, their safety, and that of the educators and other school-based staff that support them, should not be compromised,” ETFO said in a statement.
The union called for risk assessments for every classroom where students are learning in person; higher-grade personal protective equipment (PPE); enhanced and more frequent cleaning protocols in in-person classrooms; portable air purification units and carbon dioxide monitors for all classrooms that are open; evidence of completion of a COVID-19 screener and reduced class sizes.
ETFO also called for all education workers required to deliver in-person special education programs to be given a vaccine as soon as possible.